Minnesotans in need of good news got some Thursday: Ice-out was declared on Lake Minnetonka, nearly two weeks earlier than usual and a sure sign of spring on the Twin Cities’ largest lake.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Water Patrol and the St. Paul-based Freshwater Society make the call each year on the 14,000-acre lake, marking the start of the state’s cherished boating season.

“It’s kind of one of the benchmarks spring is coming,” said Wade Campbell, a Freshwater board member who was on the boat Thursday morning, staying 6 feet away from a deputy as they surveyed the lake.

Still, he added, “It’s going to be a different spring [this year].” That’s because the COVID-19 outbreak is prompting strict social distancing rules.

While the state’s stay-at-home order that goes through at least April 10 allows for boating and fishing, tying boats together to congregate in large groups — a popular activity at Lake Minnetonka’s Cruiser’s Cove — is not permitted.

“Obviously, this is an unusual start to boating season,” Sheriff David Hutchinson said in a statement, adding that everyone should keep safety in mind.

Freshwater Society Executive Director John Linc Stine said this winter’s warmer temperatures and heavier snowfall insulated the lake and prevented Minnetonka from having the thicker ice cover of years past. That, along with recent rain and wind, helped melt the ice cover sooner.

The state Department of Natural Resources tracks ice-out each year. So far, smaller lakes across southern Minnesota and the south metro are ice-free, about a week earlier than usual.

Ice-out was declared last Saturday on Bush Lake in Bloomington, more than a week earlier than the median April 6 date. In Minneapolis, Lake Nokomis and Bde Maka Ska were deemed ice-free last Sunday, six days sooner than usual.

There’s no universal method for determining ice-out. Decades ago, residents would park a car on a lake and mark ice-out by the date when it fell through.

Hennepin County deputies and the Freshwater Society declare ice-out on Lake Minnetonka when a boat can navigate all its channels and bays without being stopped by ice floes.

The median ice-out date for Minnetonka is April 14, so this year’s declaration comes 12 days early.